Over the last three episodes of Paramount+’s opening gambit to have a slickly produced, sci-actioner been one of the main draws of their streaming platform, I’ve been in danger of sounding like a broken record. After a gripping first episode that had me awash with fond memories of playing the original video game trilogy in my 20’s, the show had fallen into a rut of overused sci-fi tropes (tampered with hero gradually regaining emotions and memories) and seemingly unnecessary side missions (Kwan Ha and Soren’s failed resistance recruitment drive) – however, just like a plasma pistol with the trigger held down, a big, green ball of energy was inexorably building that would soon be fired upon the measured pace the show had developed that would take all of its plodding plot points and give them a timely boot up the heavily armoured rear. That’s right, people – it’s time to wave “Halo” to some fuckin’ action.
Thanks to Master Chief obtaining valuable childhood memories of more Forerunner techology that will connect to the Keystone, the UNSC has descended in force on the planet Eridanas II in order to hurriedly excavate the item before the alien forces of the Covenant get wise to what they’re up to and launches an all out attack. However, after the artifact emits a high pitched, deafening sound, human Covenant agent, Makee, senses it allowing her to pinpoint it’s exactly location.
Meanwhile, on Madrigal, the constant trudge of Kwan Ha’s attempts to spark life in the dormant Insurrectionist movement lays in ruins as Soren angrily tries to find ways off the the planet. However, while this is going on, Master Chief is having some personal issues – firstly, he’s discovered that fellow Spartan Kai – 125 has followed in his footsteps by removing her emotion suppressor and who is currently elated by the results despite the Chief being worried that it’ll effect her battle prowess. On the other hand, his issue of an over emotional Spartan becomes horribly hypocritical when, after touching the artifact to regain yet more memories, Chief discovers that he was stolen by his family as a child by Dr. Halsey and replaced with a flash clone, but his subsequent (but understandable) rage fit is instantly halted when chirpy AI program Cortana shuts him down when he makes a murderous lunge at the amoral creator of the Spartan programme.
Upon awakening, Master Chief finds that he’s going to have to put his issues aside for a while as an entire Covenant battalion pops in for a visit and pretty soon after (try instantly), the area becomes a violent battlefield as both armies blast away at each other in order to secure the Forerunner artifact for themselves.
When the smoke clears, Kai’s emotions have caused her to panic, Chief has once again defied direct orders and the artifact has gone – but the most significant thing happens after the Covenant leaves: apparently dumped by her former allies like yesterday’s laundry is Makee. Is this a new plot by the aliens, or have they metaphorically voted her off the island?
Well, I finally got my wish. After waiting episode after episode, desperately yearning that Halo would put the sprawling, brooding sci-fi to bed for just five minutes in order to follow up on the first episode’s action-based opening, the fifth episode finishes up with a brutal melee that not only blows that earlier scene clean out of the water, but evokes beautiful, beautiful flashbacks to the more frenetic parts of the game. However, before I start gushing uncontrollably about the action sequence, I suppose I’d better so my due diligence as a reviewer and cover the rest of the episode too. Yep, that means we’ve got to address the continuing sub-plot of Kwan Ha and Soren as it stubbonly insists on shambling in the direction of nowhere in particular despite adding absolutely nothing to the show in general. While we do get scenes of Kwan showing her grit and mettle by outwitting her reluctant colleague, it still seems like every moment spent on them is something of a waste thus far.
However, when taking the rest of the episode into account, Reckoning finally allows a lot of the shoe’s other dangling threads to finally pay off in some respect or another. Take, for example, Kai’s post inhibitor reaction to the chaos of war, her joy at becoming an emotion feeling individual becoming abject fear as she’s completely overwhelmed by all the gore and death of battle. Sure, it’s a little bit annoying that the female Spartan freaks out while the similarly “free” Master Chief thrives and that even with the ability to feel feelings, Kai’s copious battle experience wouldn’t have prepared her at least a little. Elsewhere, we get a lot more insight into the disfuntion that exists between Halsey, her ex-husband, Captain Jacob Keyes and their frustrated daughter, Miranda, as we see their child set up to run the military dig, only to once again have a career making operation frustratingly taken from her by the machinations of her mother – but later, we see genuinely fear cross the eyes of the single minded scientist when she thinks that her daughter’s craft is destroyed.
However, the most intriguing (yet underused) thread is that of the apparent discarding of Makee by the Covenant which literally hurtles her into the main story via a purple drop pod. Is she a plant or has she genuinely been discarded by the Prophets now that they have a lead on finding the ultimate weapon, either way, finding out should be worth a dozen of what’s slowly unfolding on Madrigal.
But now we turn our attention to that stonking action sequence, which is exactly the live action battle I always hoped we’d get the second I heard that a Halo tv series was on the way. It’s literally all here as episode director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) crams in as much Halo shit you could ever hope to see as Banshees scream over the battle field as Warthogs roar through the dust and explosions and we get the Covenant attacking in force. Not only do we finally (FINALLY!) get the babbling Grunts and energy shield waving Jackals dropping into the firefight, but we also get a surprising, first view of the hulking, ape-like Brutes first seen in Halo 2. The in-action detail is crisp, clear and deeply satisfying, with even a couple of genuinely cinematic, fist pumping moments of awesome occuring at regular intervals, usually involving Master Chief doing something devastatingly cool like reclaiming a Warthog from a joy riding Grunt with a terse quip or aiming a careening Banshee like a missile while tenaciously clinging to the side.
Finally, the show seems to mostly figured out how to find some balance in order to make the intrigue actually intriguing, so hopefully the show will manage to keep it up and not bury the innate Halo-ness of the episode under yet more unnecessary subplots. Giving some kind of long overdue hope that Halo could still become something incredibly special, here’s hoping that Master Chief will continue to keep his eye on the prize.